How to Create a Concept Map: A Step-by-Step Guide
How to Create a Concept Map: A Step-by-Step Guide
When building a concept map, it is important to know where to start in designing its structure; that's why it is essential to remember the basic principle of the concept map, which is the schematization of the main concepts. A concept map consists of two basic elements:
Logical and hierarchical relationships between concepts
Studying with concept maps is effective because it simplifies the original text by highlighting key concepts and providing a clearer view of the subject of study, albeit simplified. Thanks to the connections between key concepts (through connectors like arrows), it is possible to make a logical association of the transcribed elements, which allows for better memorization. The main concepts are organized in a hierarchical manner, from the most central (often located at the top) to the most peripheral ones, which are arranged like the branches and leaves of an upside-down tree. It is very common and important to use symbols and images for their immediate visual impact.
The concept map method:
There are numerous studies, primarily started in the 1990s, that have analyzed the effectiveness of the concept map as a study method and have witnessed the positive results found in students' learning. The cognitive motivation lies precisely in the structure of the concept map: it falls under a type of learning called Visual Learning, which stimulates visual memory to the point that even after a long time, one can remember what they have studied.
What should be emphasized about this method, which is perhaps the most important aspect, is that the concept map must be tailored to the student: whether it is created by the student or the teacher, it is built based on the student's study and cognitive characteristics, personalizing and simplifying the study experience.
You can take a look at the different types of maps (conceptual, mental, multimedia) in the dedicated article.
Creating concept maps online is very useful for individual or group study.
How to create a concept map:
And here we are at the central part of the article: what are the rules and guidelines for a perfect concept map? Let's be clear, by "perfect" we mean right and effective for oneself and one's needs, allowing for the best learning of any subject. There are various steps and points to consider that we will try to unfold together.
Analyze the original text:
Before starting to build the concept map, you need to analyze the topic on which you will create it, either on your paper book or using digital material. Divide the text into sections and identify the main and secondary concepts, perhaps highlighting them with different colors depending on their importance; these will be the candidates to become nodes in your concept map. For those who have reading difficulties, text-to-speech synthesis is an excellent tool for analyzing the original text by listening to it.
At this point, create relationships between the most important information and connect them to each other; you can do this by drawing arrows or taking notes next to the text. These connections will represent the connections between the concepts in your map.
Organize key concepts graphically:
At this point, you are ready to start creating your map. Choose colors and shapes (rectangular, circular, elliptical, etc.) to define the main and secondary information (for example, a red rectangular node for the central topic of the map, another color for the main concepts, another for the secondary concepts, etc.), connecting the various concepts with arrows. Alternatively, you can choose one color for each branch of the map as shown in the example below.
Example of a concept map with a central topic and main and secondary concepts (created with Algor Education).
The shape of the concept map is generally that of an inverted tree, so put the title of the topic at the top center (Giacomo Leopardi with a yellow background) and from there, descending, insert the concepts into the geometric figures you have chosen to define their importance (in this case rectangles of different shapes).
Identify macro-topics (e.g., the life of Giacomo Leopardi, his works, the current of thought), synthesize them into keywords to develop all the concepts in an orderly manner and link them to the higher concept. Repeat this step for each branch of the map, going into more detail on the macro-topics you have chosen, and remember:
The concepts within the nodes should be represented by a few words, sometimes just one is enough!
Online concept map on Giacomo Leopardi created with Algor Maps.
You can open this concept map on Giacomo Leopardi and modify it online to your liking by clicking here. If you want to share it with friends or teachers, just send them the link.
Customize your map
Whether it's on paper or with software or an app for creating concept maps, customizing the map is important for better memorization of the topic. For example, you can choose to only put the main concepts in geometric shapes while connecting the secondary concepts with arrows, or use labels to indicate dates, etc. In short, you can make studying customizable and more stimulating and fun.
The key to a concept map is synthesis: choose keywords, a short phrase that encapsulates the concept well, define a limited number of connections and notions to include to avoid making the map too chaotic and scattered.
Tips for an effective concept map
Here are some tips for an effective concept map:
- Use predicates between connectors to make the connection more discursive (e.g., Leopardi → wrote → lo Zibaldone);
- Use different shapes, styles, and colors to highlight certain concepts;
- Number the concepts so that you can follow a logical thread in verbal exposition.
Clearly, in order to personalize your map and make the experience more stimulating, it is very useful to use PC or tablet applications to create concept maps like Algor Maps.
Concept maps for DSA
Concept maps are recommended by the Ministry of Education as compensatory tools for students with DSA because they
"These tools relieve the student with DSA from a task made difficult by the disorder, without, however, making the task easier from a cognitive point of view." (Source: MIUR)
In general, many students with Special Educational Needs (SEN) prefer the visual and auditory channels for information absorption. The concept map plays a significant role in the learning phase: it helps to better assimilate concepts and avoids slowdowns and difficulties (e.g., having to reread). The map can also be a support in the oral presentation phase for the student.
Concept maps most suitable for DSA
Now let's see what the fundamental characteristics of an effective concept map are for a student with dyslexia or other learning disabilities:
- Little text, many high-quality images. Students with dyslexia and DSA make the most of the visual channel. It is important that the map contains little text in the form of keywords and many visually impactful images, especially for primary school students;
- Include predicates on the arrows that connect the conceptual nodes;
- Use different colors for different sections or levels of the map;
- Everyone has their own style, it is important to leave room for creativity. Some prefer a tree layout over a radial layout, some prefer to start from top to bottom and others from left to right;
Concept maps for inclusive education
The teacher's goal is to ensure inclusive education, ensuring that any disabilities or special needs do not represent a barrier to learning. Concept maps fully achieve this purpose, in fact:
- They improve the organization of ideas and knowledge;
- They help understand and memorize the main concepts;
- They are a versatile tool because they can be accessed anywhere on all devices, PCs, tablets, smartphones;
- They allow the integration of multimedia content such as photos and videos, links, audio.
In the classroom, concept maps are a tool for inclusive education because they can be used by everyone.
Online concept maps
Digital tools have also come to our rescue for concept maps. Compared to the traditional construction of maps on paper, applications or software for PCs or tablets to create concept maps offer great advantages because they speed up map creation, offer more customization possibilities, and make the experience more stimulating and enjoyable.
The most innovative applications like Algor Education also allow:
- Sharing concept maps with classmates and teachers, just send them a link, they can open your map and modify it;
- Save them in cloud folders for future use;
- Create maps from digital books, PDF files, and communicate within the same screen;
- Use the speech synthesizer with karaoke highlighting to allow everyone to listen to the content of the map;
Furthermore, with Algor Education, there is also a new feature called "Text-to-Map" that allows you to input texts and automatically generate a concept map. This further facilitates the construction of the concept map, reducing time and effort, especially for students with DSA.
Article by Rosaria Spiniello, content creator.